Interview - Kevin Curry
He is therefore the perfect person to ask "how do I run a campaign getting Open Source Software into local government", because that's what he has been doing for years. And it was great to get the from-the-trenches advice, if only I can put half of it into action, it will be fantastic.
So, I called Kevin today, and despite my webcam failures (which saved him the horror of my face at pre-coffee hours Virginia time) we had, for me, a productive and inspiring discussion.
Kevin fell into the role of an organiser almost by accident, setting up a CityCamp movement after "tweeting an idea, and someone took me up on it". Curiously Twitter is mostly responsible for this campaign, as I only really felt it had a chance after Liam Maxwell responded to a tweet conversation I was in. A strange coincidence that has only just occured to me.
Kevin organises independant "brigades" of what are described as civic hackers, creating Open Source software and services on everything from healthy eating to clean energy and of course, local government. After the National Day of civic hacking involving 11,000 people in 83 cities, Kevin was understandably proud of the work they do.
I think oss4gov has a little way to go yet...
I have liberally interpreted Kevin's advice and broken it into four main categories
On the policy side, Kevin recommended playing a long game. Getting F/OSS as the "norm" for local government software is a stated goal for me, but there is a world of difference between starting some pilot projects, and getting 2,000+ services developed, hosted and supported into maturity. He pointed me at Burt Lum and Hawaii's current travails with their open data laws, San Francisco and their policy changes and more.
Best practise is basically what you expect - write good code. I am reminded of a story from a lawyer friend. He was a young lawyer at a well known law firm, and was tasked with giving out no-cost advice to incoming letters that clearly were never going to be proper clients. After a while he asked the managing partner, how, as he was working almost unsupervised, the firm would be protected against law suits arising from his correspondance. The reply is one we should do well to remember - "Give good advice". We should "write good code".
For communities Kevin came up with the great line "engage your adjacent constituent communities" - in other words to make contact with people such as Dominic Campbell at govfresh.com, Tom Steinburg at MySociety and others, including folks who have already joined us like Phil Rumens or Paul Mackay.
So I shall continue to reach out to the adjacent communities. But oss4gov will focus for now on developing OSS solutions to the "pure-play" local government services that can get overlooked, but like the bin collections, we all need.
And finally, JFDI. (look it up if you are not sure). In the end the advantage this campaign has that I am trying to bring commerical, freelance, open source developrs in front of local government decision makers. And freelancers live by delivering good code, on time.
If we want to succeed, like Kevin in the US is so magnificently doing, we need to just do one thing. Write code so good people want to use it.
A big thank you to Brennan Dunn for putting Kevin and I in touch.